Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Another Reason to Be Left Behind: Cats and Dogs and Dolphins and Bears, oh, my!

To continue my series of finding rapturous Reasons to Be Left Behind, now let me sing the praises of other animals – both wild and domestic. Throughout much of my career, I’ve followed wild animals – from the mysterious and forgiving gray whale in my book Sightings to dolphins in Between Species to wolves in my first memoir Build Me an Ark: A Life with Animals. I also celebrate domestic animals, especially our daily companions of cats and dogs. What would I do without my ascended Zen master, Loki, and my mischievous and protective feline, Tao?

I come from a long line of animal lovers. My father raised Tenneesee Walkers; one niece volunteers at the zoo to work with aging elephants. Another niece is addicted to Animal Planet. Is it any wonder that I discovered at every turning point of my life, spiritual or psychological, that an animal guided me in making some big decision?

For example, my decades of studying wild dolphins have taught me about playfulness as a survival skill.  My niece carried on the family tradition of cetacean love when she volunteered to work at a dolphin research center one summer. She got a tattoo of a dolphin, which inspires me to do the same, if I have the courage.

We’ve always known that animals are intelligent and able to adapt to changing environments – something humans might try. But a recent British Sunday Times article cites new research in which dolphins are declared “the world’s most intelligent creatures, after humans.” The scientists go on to suggest “they are so bright that they should be treated as ‘non-human persons.'” A professor of ethics at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, Thomas White, wrote a series of academic studies suggesting that dolphins should have rights and that they “qualify for moral standing as individuals.”
I have a lot to say on this ethical and spiritual issue of other animals as worthy of equal rights with humans. Much of my writing – from the novel Animal Heart to Singing to the Sound addresses this. Stay tuned.
But for now as I work with my cats warming themselves by the space heater and we all listen to the waves off the Salish Sea, I’d like to give a practical reason for cherishing our fellow creatures: The health benefits of animal companionship.
The New York Times reports that while it is still not well understood, animals can help lower our blood pressure, ease our pain, comfort us in our grieving, and raise healthy children.  When researching the effect of visiting therapy dogs (like the Delta Society volunteers) with children in the hospital, Emily Grankowski said, “The dogs brighten them up.” This is also true for autistic children and elders who often have no physical touch except by petting cats or walking a dog.
I edited an anthology, Intimate Nature: The Bond Between Women and Animals, in which the poet, Judith Collas quips: “she never felt she was sleeping with the wrong dog.”
The creature comfort that comes from encountering wild animals and living alongside our domestic pets is so profound that I include them in my most important Reasons to Be Left Behind. Now, I better get up from this computer and the piles of work. Why? I’ve got to go walk the dog!


  1. Speaking of the bond between humans and animals. Late Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend of 2009 my wife got the call that she had breast cancer. I don't know if it's standard procedure for doctors to make it sound really bad at first, but the diagnosis was grim.
    Shortly following, as each test came back, the prognosis became better and better. As this happened our lab/chow, Chewie, who had been with me for 9 short years developed an extremely fast growing and non-treatable sarcoma in his mouth. We had it cut out once, but it was back with a vengeance and my baby boy was gone within three weeks. I know he sacrificed himself for my dear wife and friend, Cyndi.
    with metta,

  2. Congratulations Brenda!
    Ellen and I look forward to reading another of your great works.
    What a BEAUTIFUL canine companion! Congrats on the new addition!
    We hope to see you at your lecture/bk signing in the desert on Sunday.
    Let's catch up!

  3. I have no doubt that animals are our equals, in some ways, and our superiors in others .. I don't think I could live without their touch, their affection, and at times, their judgement.

    They make me a better human, without doubt.